As Cleveland's sadder sister city to the west, Detroit, has been struggling to be reborn so it can rejoin the great American Midwestern civilization. Does one of its newest bands, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., indicate there is vital life and future left in the crater once proudly known as the Motor City?

   Cheekily named after America's premier NASCAR champ so it "could musically go anywhere it liked" (according to its founders, Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott, does cut new ground with itsindie­synth­pop­crashing­percussion and generally disarmingly happy­go­lucky lyrics and danciness. Read: girls love 'em.

   At the A&R March 15 the quartet did what only the British seemed able to do in the 80s, namely take electro­styles and customize them so tastefully that style pretty much became substance, a viable if not pragmatic alternative in the pop universe.

   I mean, the second I walked in and saw the ungainly Zott jamming onstage with a third of his huge curly mop of hair done up like a rhino horn sticking up at an angle from the side of his head, his entire appearance that of a swarthy Neopolitan fishmonger on the docks of the Mediterranean loudly hawking greasy fresh fileted fish when in reality it was some extremely groove­a­licious Detroit synth­pop, well, I failed them immediately in the appearance department. But I wasn't disgusted by the style: Human League­meets­the­Detroit­Tigers­dugout.

   Then another super­decently arranged Dale Jr. tune hummed its way off the stage and into the youthful, fleshy post­modern crowd for a repeat of the previous feel­good accomplishment and then after that one another architecturally sound electro­weenie­rock­popper had ever joined from hips and below moving in reinvented Motor City four­four time. A town that put screaming hard guitar punk, rock 'n' roll and garage­rock on the map has traded the machismo in for some finely tuned and utterly mannered indie­dance­synth­pop that even this fading alpha male found redemptive.

   Thus, nothing to look at and with a handful of the worst stage props ever seen including awful bare electric light bulbs, this band I understood: clever, very clever. No two songs even remotely sounded alike. And their “We Almost Lost Detroit” was as heavy a rock tune as could be with a helluva message and a superb amount of electronic and traditional percussion. More than two weeks later and I've still got the song in my head.

   Don't dismiss them as light because they convey a happy vibe. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. can go anywhere they want to in my book. Hell, I'll even be their chauffeur.


   Ireland's Pogues showed the world there is life after punk: they dropped the pose and reinvented themselves as snarling darlings of traditional Irish music, becoming Celtic tigers with a fine career and pedigree as the perhaps the single best exemplar of "everything­old­is­new­again."

   To that small group of now­types who've successfully embraced yester­year, we may add Mariachi El Bronx, the alter­ego of the L.A.­based Bronx who do an absolutely superb job as a mariachi band, right down to the matching, awesome bolero suits. No sombreros, however.

   At the A&R Bar Friday, March 22, they drew me strictly because of the word “mariachi.” I knew completely zero about them. Led by the bald, perpetually smirking Matt Caughtran, a thick dude who looks like he'd be just as happy smashing a whiskey bottle over your head as sharing a shot with you, the perfectly rehearsed, perfectly executing eight­piece took a strictly traditional approach of mariachi­­stand­up drummer, Mexican trad bass, violinist, blaring trumpet, etc­­and only added a harder­edged energy (much harder) and it was off to the dog races big time.

   Songs of love and loss gracefully yet powerfully waltzed and rocked out of the band and into the receptive audience of gringo hipsters. It was the kind of mood music guys could hold their girls in front of them and yet feel like they were still being washed over by punkish power. The Bronx achieved it effortlessly, too, with a fluidity and a feel I found to be as warm and funky as a taco truck. How this shit would play in Mexico one can only wonder. I don't think I'd like to be adopted as a cartel house band, though. I'm too attached to myhead.

   "Revolution Girl" was the highlight of the Bronx's mariachi set. A romantico melody set on top of the sturdiest chord progression of the night, the song plowed like a cutter through the gulf, leaving a message of a boy found by a girl on a Friday and returned a man on Monday morning. Now that's a revolution we can live with.


   Well, I was a little disappointed when I looked more closely at the flyer for the Glenn Matlock/Sylvain Sylvain show at Bernie's Distillery Saturday March 22. Acoustic? What the fuck?  What were they gonna do­­Joan Baez songs?

   Maybe they should have.

   Matlock was the original bassist for the Sex Pistols but was kicked out by Johnny Rotten for allegedly admiring the Beatles. Sylvain Sylvain was a founder of the New York Dolls. And thus the pair of the m­­nearly 40 years later ­­have resurrected their putrid corpses and gone on some sort of 'we're­dead­but­just­don't­know­it­so­pay­us­our­money­tour'.

   It was ridiculous in the extreme.

   First of all, I love Bernie's. It's our number one punk rock toilet and always will be. I've seen many a­show there and have many fine punk rock memories. So flush with pride, you know? Rock on eternally, Bernie's.

   So it was appropriate it hosted these two losers and it was also appropriate the appropriate crowd of grotesques showed up, which we did, in all of our aging­gracelessly grotesquerie. Shudder!

   Sylvain looks like a 2,000­ year ­old man who has spent eternity at the proverbial Catskills ­resort ­in ­the ­sky, playing to old Jewish ladies laden with permanent layers of dry skin cells, and spent the night at the Distillery treating the crowd to idiotic sing­alongs and stupid name­dropping stories of glam­punk nostalgia and sucking up to Johnny Thunders' ghost and, Jesus, he was goddam god­awful. He looked like the doorman at Skully's.

What can you do with someone like that?

   Matlock, on the other hand, played a few decent pop­punk ditties from his days in various semi­successful, post­Pistols bands, like the Rich Kids. I liked his one tune, “Yeah Right.” He sort of looked like a disheveled Dave Edmunds with a Nick Lowe demeanor. Not all that bad, really. When he finally got around to “God Save The Queen” even I got up front with the Crass punks and got into the song. On an acoustic guitar, it was the high point of the evening.

   But like the idiot Sylvain, he played too long. Sylvain's smattering of Dolls songs didn't have the effect of the one Pistol's anthem, though. Power is power.

   At this point in the night I'd been patiently waiting hours to see them together. And I couldn't take it. So I left. Too much hype, too little hope.

   I heard it wasn't any big deal, what I missed.


   I've rather enjoyed the response I've gotten to suggestions for favorite classic psychedelic songs, with people calling, visiting, emailing tunes. I'll try to have the list together next ish. In the meantime, I really want to know from the Deadheads: what is the most psychedelic Grateful Dead tune?


  In the meantime, my personal playlist top three have been these: the two­cd Van Halen best of that alternates the David Lee Roth with the Sammy Hagar eras, and it isn't just down to the choice of vocalists in terms of quality and texture. The Best of Both Worlds is like a wedding cake with layers at war with each other, like most marriages. “Ain't Talking About Love,” “You Really Got Me,” “Hot For Teacher,” “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” “Unchained,” “Beautiful Girls,” etc. are sandwiched between Sammy's attempts to remake VH as a disgusting suburban wedding band and he should be permanently banned from the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame for life. He ain't no Pete Rose.

   Second is a Spanish guitar album from 1997 by two nobodies doing 16 tracks on the International Music Series label, called smartly enough, Spanish Guitar. It is some of the finest, most passionate nylon­ string playing I've ever heard and I can't get enough of it. Mostly traditional with the odd Pat Metheny (Unity Village), things like Fandangos De Huelva, Capricho Arabe, Taranta, Aconquija and the four movements of Sevillianos are astounding in their lightning and fire. In terms of sheer moodiness, this album make Trent Reznor seem medicated.

   Ain't no passion like the Latin passion, mi amigo.

   My third favorite piece of music is the lighthearted Harold Arlen song, “Little Biscuit,” an ode to his nearest and dearest using food as the moniker of affection. I play it everyday. I love the schemes, such as “little apple, I'm your tree, little biscuit, I'm your oven. little strawberry, I'm your basket, sweet little sweet potato I'm your pie, little diamond, I won't stop this crazy rhymin, until we're community property.”

   Ah, they don't write songs like that anymore.

   Do they, little peanut?

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